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Mischa Barton looks back on 'The O.C.' character death: 'Poor Marissa'

Almost 20 years later, the former stars of The O.C. find the shocking third-season moment that Marissa Cooper dies, in a fiery car crash soundtracked by Imogen Heap's haunting cover of "Hallelujah," difficult to watch.

Still, Mischa Barton, the actress who played Marissa, agreed to watch the scene with former co-stars Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke, during an appearance on Tuesday's episode of Bilson and Clarke's podcast, Welcome to the OC, Bitches!, a preview of which debuted Monday on People. It was Barton's first time on the show, which looks back at the juicy teen drama that aired on Fox for four seasons, from 2003 to 2007.

"I don't particularly want to, but I will," Barton says of rewatching her character's death.

From left: Mischa Barton, Rachel Bilson, Melinda Clarke and Kelly Rowan star in the third season of
From left: Mischa Barton, Rachel Bilson, Melinda Clarke and Kelly Rowan star in the third season of The O.C. (Photo: WB/Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Bilson reassures her that she won't be alone, "I feel you. I'm with you. I don't want to. It is so hard to watch."

When they do watch, Barton says, "Poor Marissa. She really, really goes through it."

Bilson even begins to cry.

"Oh no, I'm getting really sad too," Barton says. "You can't cry, Rachel!"

Barton's departure from the show that catapulted her into the mainstream was huge news in 2006, and she later explained that there had been conversations about her departure since the middle of the second season.

"It's a bit complicated," Barton told E! News of her departure in May 2021. "It started pretty early on because it had a lot to do with them adding Rachel [Bilson] in last minute as, after the first season, a series regular and evening out everybody's pay — and sort of general bullying from some of the men on set that kind of felt really s*****. But, you know, I also loved the show and had to build up my own walls and ways of getting around dealing with that and the fame that was thrust specifically at me. Just dealing with like the amount of invasion I was having in my personal life, I just felt very unprotected, I guess is the best way to put it."

According to E!, neither Fox nor Warner Bros. TV would comment at the time. But Bilson later described Barton's statements as "perplexing" and, in the case of her hiring, "not what happened."

Barton also said producers had given her the choice of an exit that would give her the option of returning to the show or ending Marissa's story altogether.

Barton chose the latter; among other things, she wanted to accept the movie parts she was being offered. And she said then that she didn't regret the end of Marissa.

I "really love that she had this epic death and that it ended like that because it's memorable and it's not just another flash in the pan," Barton said in 2021. "People still come up to me to this day and they're like, 'I remember where I was when your character died!' And they're still emotional about it, like it was really me. I think that that's cool that people actually took something away from it. There were lessons to be learned from Marissa, for better or for worse."

The O.C. was canceled in January 2007, following a decline in ratings that began back in the second season.